cat - macOS


The cat command in macOS is a utility used to read, concatenate, and write files to the standard output. Primarily, it is used to display the contents of one or more files, combine files, and create new ones. It’s most effective for managing textual data directly from the terminal.


The basic syntax of the cat command is:

cat [OPTIONS] [FILE]...
  • [OPTIONS] are the flags that can be used with the command to alter its behavior.
  • [FILE]... is one or more files whose contents you want to display. If no file is specified, cat reads from the standard input.


Here are some of the commonly used options for cat:

  • -b, --number-nonblank: Number nonempty output lines, starting at 1.
  • -e: Display non-printing characters (except tabs) and a dollar sign ($) at the end of each line.
  • -n, --number: Number all output lines, starting at 1. This is useful for tracking line numbers for debugging or editing.
  • -s, --squeeze-blank: Reduce multiple blank lines to a single blank line. Useful for readability while viewing or combining files.
  • -t: Show non-printing characters except for tabs.
  • -v, --show-nonprinting: Use ^ and M- notation, except for LFD and TAB, for better visibility of controls.


  1. Displaying file contents:

    cat file.txt

    This command prints the contents of file.txt to the terminal.

  2. Combining multiple files into a new file:

    cat file1.txt file2.txt > combined.txt

    Here, cat reads file1.txt and file2.txt and redirects the output to combined.txt.

  3. Appending text to an existing file:

    cat additional.txt >> existing.txt

    This appends the contents of additional.txt to the end of existing.txt.

  4. Numbering lines in a file:

    cat -n file.txt

    Outputs the contents of file.txt with each line numbered.

Common Issues

  • Permission Denied: Users might run into permission issues. Ensure you have the right permissions to read or write the files involved.
  • File Not Found: Check for typos in the filename or directory path.


The cat command can be effectively combined with other commands like grep for finding content within files or piped into commands like sort for sorting output. Example:

cat file.txt | grep 'search_term' | sort

This searches for ‘search_term’ in file.txt, then sorts the lines containing this term.

  • more and less: For viewing the contents of a file in a scrollable manner.
  • grep: For searching through text.
  • sort: For arranging lines of text.
  • tac: Displays the contents of the files in reverse.

For more detailed information, refer to official documentation available through the man cat command or the Apple Developer Documentation.